Tails: Looking from My Side of “The Post”

A few weeks ago, The Washington Post printed a story about dog auctions.  It wasn’t just any story about dog auctions, it was one that insinuated that it is the animal rescuers buying at auctions who are fueling the puppy mill industry.

It has taken me a few weeks to gather my thoughts and tame my emotions.  As many know, puppy mill dogs are nearest and dearest to my heart and saving them from a life of living hell is what I am most passionate about.  To hear that people like me are to blame, well, it takes some time to not just react and say something I might regret.

The thing about dog auctions and puppy mills is that I think it is easy to taint people’s minds into believing they aren’t as bad as they really are.  For one, few people will ever actually step foot into a dog auction or puppy mill and see one for themselves.  Two, far more people want to believe that dogs aren’t suffering in crappy, small cages, with no human attention, bred continuously just so Petland (or insert any pet store) can mass market cute puppies.  The entire idea of puppy mills goes against what most dog loving people want to believe, so if someone is willing to paint the picture prettier, people are sure to buy it.

However, as someone who has been, who has bought and who has lived with numerous mill survivors, I refuse to let anyone try to paint a pretty picture.  Dog auctions are cruel and nasty, exploiting man’s best friend in the absolute most barbaric way.  Anyone, I mean anyone, with a beating heart and a love for animals will leave a dog auction in one of two ways: with a dog they bought or an understanding of why someone would buy a dog.  To be honest, anyone who leaves there differently, isn’t someone I want to know.

Maybe not everyone would go to an auction, buy a dog and then make it her life long mission to educate people and free dogs from puppy mill hell, but I did.  What I saw and the things I continue to see a decade later, fuel my passion to set the record straight.  Maybe the reporter doesn’t see dogs the way I do or maybe she has never been surrounded by crates of dogs just bought at auction, or fostered an emotionally broken mill dog, or woke up in tears knowing how many more there were to save.  Maybe she just doesn’t have the compassion I have for dogs.  I search my soul to understand why anyone would try to blame rescues for saving lives or paint puppy mills as a pretty picture.

They matter, don’t they? (All bought at a dog auction)

I have been surrounded by crates of dogs just bought at auctions.  I remember bringing them to the shelter and watching as first time auction goers held these frightened, shaved, often sick dogs in their arms and cried a thousand tears.  No one able to speak because the idea that such cruelty was legal left everyone speechless.

I have fostered mill dogs so scared of every little thing they shut down completely.  Dogs afraid of stairs, grass, people, toys, even a water bowl.

I have looked into the eyes of over a thousand dogs only to see no soul able to stare back at me.  I have felt the pain and the helplessness.  I have been there and I believe I understand what this is really all about.

This dog was sold at 10 years old with completely rotted teeth, skin infections AND PREGNANT to unknowing buyers.

(Pictures courtesy of The TRUTH About Puppy Mill Auction Rescue)

Let me start right away with the most obvious fact.  The live pet trade is a 2.1 BILLION dollar business annually.  I have reached out to numerous contacts who buy at auctions to get a feel for what they believe is actually spent by rescue in a single year at all dog auctions.  In agreement, the number is around 1 million dollars.

Now, of course, a million dollars associated with rescue might seem shocking.  Rescues always say they have no money, but this number includes rescues all over the country who specifically raise dollars to buy dogs at auction.  Unlike what The Post article stated, the majority of rescues who buy at auctions are very forthcoming with donors about where the money is going.  In fact, most set up fundraising pages specifically for auctions and the medical costs associated with mill dog rescue.

One million dollars is less than .05% of the entire pet trade business!  How on Earth can anyone make a statement that a group who contributes less than .05% to an industry is solely responsible for its success?  It is simple math.  Rescues are not the ones perpetuating the horrifying business of commercial breeding.  They just aren’t.

Instead, they ARE saving thousands of innocent, helpless dogs from a lifetime of hell.  There is a new FB page dedicated to educating the public on the very dogs bought at auctions by rescues.  It is called The TRUTH about Puppy Mill Auction Rescue.  On this page, they post pictures and medical histories of the dogs they have pulled from auction floors.  Interestingly, one will find that the dogs they pull are not puppies but dogs so sick and neglected that they could barely stand, barely function.  Females who were listed as pregnant who still had stitches from the last caesarean.

Stitches still in and sold PREGNANT (pictures courtesy of The TRUTH About Puppy Mill Auction Rescue)

The Post reported that breeders who attend these auctions have lovely kennels.  Yet, with further investigation, these are actual pics of the breeder shown in that article.  A much different reality than previously reported. Over 230 dogs in one place.

There was talk of how much is too much to spend at an auction saving lives.  Sadly, this has become a great divide in the animal welfare world.  As someone who has spent $25 – $450 on a single dog at auction, I ask what price is right?  Some say not more than one would spend on lunch.  I say, “Lunch where?  A deli, a sit-down cafe, or on the 16th floor in Trump Tower?”  Who decided what is lunch money?  Who decides what number is okay?

Is it okay to buy a 10 year old Chihuahua for $40 but not okay to buy a 6 year old Shih Tzu for $800 whose eyes are crusted shut and still has rusted metal wire in her infected belly from a half-ass caesarean?  Would someone in rescue actually believe it makes sense to leave her to suffer?

Some say they disapprove of one rescue spending $25,000 at an auction.  So, if 25 rescues attend and each spend $1000 that would be acceptable?  Others find disapproval in breed specific rescues attending saying it is unfair to only buy their breed.  Hmmm?  Do they feel that way when Great Dane rescue pulls a Dane from a county shelter?

Lastly, there are those who say, “I know I would buy if I went to a dog auction, so I don’t go.” And, they go on to criticize those who do for spending so much money.  Well, here is a newsflash, just because you choose not to go, does not mean there aren’t thousands of dogs still suffering and in need of rescue.  Just because you choose to look the other way, put your head in the sand, does not mean that this hellacious industry doesn’t exist.

From day one, I have said I would never be a hypocrite.  I have bought dogs at auctions for all kinds of prices, all kinds of reasons, and all kinds of breeds.  From prices of $25 to over $400. For reasons such as the oldest there to the one who looks sickest.  From breeds like Chinese Crested Powder Puff, Goldendoodle, Dachshund, Puggle, Shih Tzu, to mixes, etc… It is easy to sit outside the auction house and make random statements about who is acceptable to rescue and for how much. Try walking in…

I beg ALL rescues to walk in just once and look into the cages and see the hundreds of eyes looking back at them and then tell me who doesn’t deserve to be saved that day.

I don’t think they can and that is why I continue to support those brave enough to walk into an auction and face the lifeless dogs and do whatever it is they can to save them.  To me, all dogs matter and these dogs deserve a second chance just as much as dogs in the meat trade, the strays in 3rd world countries and the homeless dogs on death row in our own city shelters.  And, when one realizes that less than .05% of the money in the pet trade is coming in due to rescue, can’t we deem their lives, “priceless” and move on?

Much of this dog’s jaw was rotted off at the auction. Yet, AKC checked her “good.” (Pictures courtesy of The TRUTH About Puppy Mill Auction Rescue)

That is what we need to do: move on from an article that places blame on the very groups doing everything in their power to make things better, from physically saving mill dogs to standing before their legislators begging for change.  The number one thing The Post article failed terribly at was actually describing mass breeding operations.

Rescues wouldn’t spend money or time buying mill dogs if they didn’t feel it was the dogs’ only hope.  Rescues go to auctions because they know damn well where these dogs are coming from and it is NOT the pretty kennels The Post described or pictured.

Most of the breeders who attend the auctions are large scale, USDA licensed, puppy factories.  They aren’t hobby breeders.  These places have hundreds of dogs on-site and few people to care for them  Thanks to Bailing Out Benji we can take a look at the sheer number of puppy mills in just the state of Missouri, where the auctions take place.  There are over 800 mills and some of the HSUS 100 worst!

Rescues don’t go to auction to contribute to the industry.  They go to save dogs from suffering.

For maps of puppy mills in other states, visit this page at Bailing Out Benji.

To get an in-depth look into the world of USDA licensed kennels, I strongly urge you to buy a copy of The Doggie in the Window, by Rory Kress and sit down and read her description of the numerous USDA approved kennels across America.  Kress is the ultimate journalist using all of her impeccable skills to demonstrate the failed USDA’s attempts to regulate the commercial breeding industry.  She shows throughout her amazing book how these facilities are stricken with dead puppies, sick dogs, rats, feces covered floors yet pass inspection again and again.  Dogs with no food or potable water, no medical care, left to suffer because the USDA is NOT doing their job.

The Post never mentioned that “USDA licensed” means jack shit in the USA.

If you love dogs, and I think you do because you read my blog, please make sure you do your research before buying into the crap The Post is selling.  I have been in the trenches, I have held the head of a sick mill dog, I have carried numerous crates full of mill dogs just rescued from auction, I KNOW, I REALLY KNOW the truth.

I wrote Bark Until Heard detailing the heartbreaking things I witnessed at auction, just so people would know the truth.  I am passionate about only this.   Do not be fooled by the agenda of others.  The truth is the truth and it is that millions of dogs are being held prisoners of greed in the hands of people who only care about money – not animals.  

The success of puppy mills has NOTHING to do with the rescuers and everything to do with the bad breeders, the worthless USDA inspections and the lackadaisical legislators failing us everyday to make the changes needed.

Please, before you judge the passionate work of rescuers literally SAVING the lives of innocent dogs, go to an auction, foster a mill survivor, or, at the very least, talk one-on-one with someone whose heart breaks a million times when they painfully recall the mill dog they couldn’t save – those are the people who KNOW the real truth, the gut-wrenching, heartbreaking reality of mass-breeding and dog auctions.

My soul knows the truth, my heart feels the truth and my eyes have seen the truth behind mass breeding and dog auctions and because of that I have zero regrets about buying a dog’s freedom.

What price would you pay to save them?

 

Tails: Buying at Dog Auctions – It Isn’t Just About Numbers

Last month was the 10-year anniversary of my first puppy mill auction.  In many ways it seems a lifetime ago, but often, when I have vivid flashbacks of the cruelty I witnessed, the emotional pain and anger are still so raw that I feel like the auctions were just yesterday.

As I type this blog my four dogs sit at my feet.  Three of which were bought at dog auctions. Two of which I bought and RESCUED personally.

Penelope, I bought her at my 3rd dog auction. She was listed as, “A good mama – will make you money.” She enjoys freedom today.

There is a lot of controversy over buying dogs at puppy mill auctions “these days.”  The truth is there was controversy a decade ago when I did it.  The protestors were outside and the “rescues” were inside and, often, when we met words were exchanged.  Until, one day, a great man, Chuck Wegner, led the auction day with a quick speech.  In it, he gently suggested something to the effect of, “While we might have different approaches, we are all really on the same side.  Let’s not forget that.”

Or, I remember a passionate protestor coming into the auction barn to warm up.  It was far below zero out and they protested the entire auction.  She walked over by me and said, “My head is out there, but my heart is in here.”

Yes, to those who disapprove of buying dogs at auction, it is definitely putting money in the pockets of those whom we despise the most.  From a purely economic equation, it is wrong.  You are all absolutely right.

But, and there is always a but, no one gets into animal welfare for the economics of it.  Ever.

Honestly, I never intended to buy at my first auction.  I was there as a reporter.  I just went in to understand the story I was writing.  The next thing I knew I was wiping the tears rolling down my face, getting a bidding a number and buying the oldest, saddest dog there for $65.

It is easy to say no one should buy these dogs at auctions based on the black and white principle of supply and demand, but until you go to one, until you look into the eyes of these broken souls, you simply cannot understand the grey area.  The emotional piece.  The very core of any animal welfare advocate’s heart.

The day I bought my first dog the President of the No WI Puppy Mills group, the group who was there protesting the auction, told me, “While we do not encourage anyone to buy a dog, if you do, please share their story.  Tell everyone about them.”

I have done that for 10 years with all 3 of my auction dogs.  Not only did I publish a book describing every detail, but on a daily basis my dogs are billboards for the reality of puppy mills.  I might have spent a few hundred dollars buying them, but, in 10 years, they have educated thousands of people.  From an economic standpoint, I would say that was pretty cheap PR.

Thorp the day of the auction.

I am not trying to underscore the concept of “not buying” at auctions.  I truly do understand it.  I think about it all of the time.  I try hard to tell myself buying is wrong, but then I remember how I felt looking at all of the hundreds of helpless dogs, desperate for a new life.  Yes, my head understands completely, but my heart not so much.

I do not believe that the buying of dogs at auctions is what is keeping puppy mills alive in this country.  Between the pet stores, back yard breeders, and on-line sales of puppies, mass breeding is alive and well and will be until legislation is passed across all 50 states to change it.

I have legislated for change and it does work.  We don’t have auctions in WI anymore.  I whole-heartedly believe that legislation is the key.  I also know that many of the rescues buying at auctions ARE legislating at the same time.  They understand its importance.

No, buying at auctions is not ideal.  It certainly is not “saving them all.”  However, just like the infamous “Starfish Story,” it does make a difference to the one who was saved.

I have three dogs who never deserved to spend their lives as prisoners of greed.  They came to me sick and scared.  They were helpless and I helped them.  I will never regret that.  And, while buying dogs for hundreds of thousands of dollars at auctions makes me cringe, I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t say, “I understand the emotional component.”

There are numerous things about rescue that do not follow black and white economics or statistical analysis.  Let me point out a few:

  • While over a million dogs are needlessly killed each year, we still have rescues denying people dogs and/or making them fill out lengthy adoption forms and jump thru hoops to adopt them.
  • There are places in the South BREEDING dogs so that the north can bring them up for adoption.
  • There are overcrowded shelters charging expensive re-claim fees for families to get their dogs back.  Since many families can’t afford the fees, their dog just gets added to the overcrowded shelter instead of simply being sent home.
  • There are overcrowded areas of the South charging rescues ridiculous fees to PULL the dogs from their care and save them!  (When we pulled dogs from Chicago AC to take across state lines, we paid $15 for a rabies shot and health certificate)
  • We bring in thousands of dogs, each year, from foreign countries while 1 million of our own dogs are killed.  Or, in the North we kill dogs everyday in crowded shelters as van loads of dogs are brought up from the South.

All I am pointing out is that there are many things in the rescue world that do not speak to black and white numbers.  Animal advocates are motivated by their heart.  They continue to try and save regardless of the “numbers.”

I am not saying it all makes sense.  Not much of it does.  But, I can understand the heart behind it.

I have not been to an auction in 9 years.  But, I  have often donated money to rescues specifically to buy dogs at auctions.  My third dog was bought at an auction by a rescue and I foster failed her.

Alice at the vet right after auction.

In an ideal world, all dog auctions would be illegal.  Until then, rescues will continue to buy dogs at auction in an effort to save them and give them a 2nd chance.  No, it is NOT helping the cause, but it is helping the ones who are freed. And each of the ones freed are a true story to share with the world.  They are all opportunities to educate others.  Far more people understand and know about puppy mills and pet stores today than they did 10 years ago because so many of us are sharing these dogs’ stories.

As I come to the end of my blog, perhaps I should acknowledge what could be perceived as naivety.  I write this from my perspective.  That perspective is one that believes rescuers buy dogs at auctions only to provide them with a 2nd chance at a loving home.  The rescues I work with and the dogs I have personally bought and re-homed were all given proper medical treatment, they were all spayed and neutered and, for the most part, no matter the adoption fee, almost all of them cost me or the rescues far more to rehabilitate and/or medically treat than we ever got back.  We never did this as “brokers,” we did this as rescuers.  

My comment to those who just “broker” the auction dogs, buying and selling them without medical care or being spayed and neutered, only counting on profit and calling it “rescue” is, “Shame on you.  You are not a rescue. You are not an animal advocate. You are greedy and evil and should be held in the lowest form like any other puppy miller.”

Alice living the life she should have always had.

 

 

 

 

 

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Truths: To Everyone Working in Airline Travel, “We have had enough!”

There once was a time when it was exciting to fly commercially.  Ages ago, people dressed in their finest clothes, dolled up their faces and boarded planes looking to be treated like royalty.  Hot meals, free cocktails, smiling stewardesses.  It was a magical time up in the air.

As economies changed, flying became more accessible to everyone.  No longer was air travel available only to the rich.  Now, most people could save up enough money to fly once a year and enjoy the luxury of such speedy travel.  And it was still a pleasurable experience.  While hot meals turned to bags of peanuts, cocktails were often included in the ticket price and overall, passengers were still customers and treated as such.

Then, 9/11 happened.  One of THE most tragic events in our country’s history.  Immediately, airline travel changed.  At one time loved ones could be seen kissing at the airline gate, now they had to say their goodbyes long before the security lines.  “No ticket, no entry.”  TSA (Transportation Security Administration) quickly became our future.  Instead of loading vodka and gin in our carry-ons, we were told to empty out water bottles, take off our shoes and damn nearly all our clothes just to get through security.

We were understanding.  We were patient.  No one wanted to see 9/11 happen again and if it meant giving up a few comforts for the safety of flying, so be it.

At around the same time, airlines started to really tighten their belts (as we were forced to take ours off).  Seats became smaller – less leg room, we started to have to pay for any damn bag we brought on the plane, no more peanuts – hell, even a glass of tap water would cost you.  The tray tables are half as big. I can’t even stand the water bottle I buy (after security) on it anymore. Hard to believe a hot meal was ever served.

Soon, it seemed, as consumers, we had less and less rights.  Flights were overbooked and for some reason, the airlines are never held accountable.  We pay the outrageous ticket fees and yet, there we are sitting on the cold floor of a busy airport waiting for the next plane that has room.

The TSA is always yelling… “Shoes off, take out your laptops, your iPhones, your change, your keys, your whole fricking life.”  Here’s a thought for TSA… stop yelling.  I know you have to say the same thing all day, but when you say it to me, it is the first time I have heard it from you.  Don’t yell at me because Jane didn’t follow your directions earlier.

And, here’s a brilliant idea… maybe, just maybe, if every airport in America followed the same security rules, more Americans would know what the hell to do.  Instead of putting shoes in containers at one airport or just placing them on the security belt at another, or instead of taking out phones in Chicago, but not in Phoenix… If you could just make the rules consistent, perhaps, we would all know what to do each and every time.  But, no matter what, please stop yelling at us.

Oh and while I am at it… is it really necessary to rip the teddy bear out of the crying 3 year old’s hand and demand that her favorite toy in the whole world be placed on the belt of the X-ray machine instead of letting her carry it through the human x-ray machine?  I mean if there really is a bomb in the teddy bear, shouldn’t the human x-ray machine find it, too?

Here’s the thing about airline travel in 2018, unlike our justice system, “Innocent until proven guilty,” I feel like we are all terrorists until the plane we are on lands safely.  That is so wrong.

Flight attendants have been given some kind of extraordinary power to the point where normal law abiding citizens lose all sense of self and courage and no longer feel the ability to do the right thing. How many phone videos have we all watched where it is obvious the flight attendant’s actions were wrong, misguided, sometimes even illegal and yet no one stepped in?  People live in fear that any actions that go against the direction of the flight attendants will place them in Federal prison.

I remember having to use the bathroom (REALLY BAD) and the flight attendant being so rude and obnoxious about me getting up to use the bathroom during some light turbulence.  C’mon, really?  I am a middle aged adult, surely I can make a decision about using the bathroom without feeling like a fricking criminal?

We have endured nothing but abuse these last few decades with the airlines.  Crammed in seats few humans fit in, treated like terrorists, bumped off flights, rarely told the truth about any delayed flight situation and yet, for the most part, we suck it up.  We see it as the price to pay for the convenience of flying.

I have been sucking it up for a long time and was willing to keep at it until just this week a United Airlines flight attendant forced a dog into an overhead bin and KILLED him.

Airlines have been mistreating dogs for a long time, specifically, the ones who had to travel under the plane.  Many have died, many have been shipped to the wrong state, country, continent, but when a dog whose owner paid for him to fly under her seat is forced into a compartment with NO air and NO chance of survival – I have to stand up and ask all of us, “How much more are you willing to sacrifice?”

When in the Hell are airlines going to be held accountable for the horrendous way they treat paying customers?

We don’t fly for free.  They are not a non-profit organization.  Killing a 10 month old puppy has got to be our limit, right?  Or, are we going to wait until they shove a crying baby in an overhead bin?

This has got to stop.  It is time the airlines re-think who the paying clients are.  I can tolerate a lot – we have all tolerated a lot, but knowingly killing a puppy?  Knowingly placing it in an area without oxygen?  A trained flight attendant forced a puppy into an overhead bin and no other flight attendant on that flight did anything about it?  Even after hearing it cry for help? These are trained individuals who know damn well there was no oxygen for that puppy to breathe.

And all of the passengers on the plane who were aware of the situation, who heard the puppy barking and whining for TWO hours, felt too afraid to act because they believed if they disobeyed the flight attendant they would go to prison?

Let me remind my fellow Americans, “We are not prisoners.  We live in a free country.  We have rights – even on a plane.  Above all, we have the right (I also believe the DUTY) to SAVE a dog being murdered by a flight attendant.

There needs to be justice not just for the helpless puppy, not just for the family, but really, for all of us.  Enough is enough.

 

 

Truths: Why I am Content Blaming All the Amish for Puppy Mills

The other night as we drove through an area of Wisconsin known for Amish communities, I posted what I thought was an innocent comment about the Amish.  I simply said that it seemed to me that whomever the God was for the Amish s/he would prefer they use electricity, buy an iPhone, and drive a car than beat a horse to death or breed dogs in filth and neglect.

While many people liked and even shared my post, there were some who felt it was wrong of me to blame all of the Amish for those behaviors.  I get it.  While I have yet to meet an Amish or Mennonite who doesn’t breed dogs, I bet there are a few out there.

This subject of Amish puppy mills is one so dear to my heart and soul that even I admit I might not be able to use rational judgement.  I wrote an entire book based on the cruelty and neglect of Amish puppy mills, so I think it is safe to say that I am in pretty deep when it comes to the subject matter.

None the less, since it was a few of my dear friends who posted the charges against me, I had no choice but to dig deeper into my own feelings to figure out why it is I am so content blaming ALL Amish for puppy mills.

One basic truth is that not all puppy mills are run by Amish.  There are hundreds across the country run by “English” (people like me).  Those mills can be just as horrendous.

So, I started REALLY thinking about this… and here is my belief.  As English people, we have no problem protesting, legislating, even criminalizing heinous, cruel behavior towards animals.  I KNOW there are millions of English people taking a stand against puppy mills (against people just like us as far as race and religion, etc…) every single day.  I see it in the pet store protests, in the political lobbying, and in social media posts.  I know that while there are people in our culture propagating puppy mills, there are also people ACTIVELY fighting it.  It is hard to accuse an entire community of being cruel, when half of the community is speaking out against the cruelty.

I have yet to see or hear of a single Amish person actively fighting against puppy mills in their communities.  I have never heard of anyone in the Amish community taking a stand for the better treatment of animals.  Yes, there might be Amish families who do treat their farm animals with compassion or have a family dog who sleeps in the house on his own bed, but until  they are willing to publicly take a stand against puppy mills or animal cruelty, they are only permitting the awful acts to continue.

I blame ALL Amish for puppy mills because no one within their community is trying to change anything.  I firmly believe that until members of their own community come out against the cruelty, they are all to blame.

Turning a blind eye to cruelty should be a crime.  The Amish people need to take responsibility for the actions of everyone in their community.  If they want to truly be the “kinder, gentler people,” they should be willing stand up and fight for the beliefs and actions that truly represent a kind community.  Keeping dogs in small wire cages, covered in feces and breeding them until they die is not what I consider a kind act.

It IS wrong to blame an entire community or race or religion based on the heinous acts of a few, however, when no one in that community appears to be against the heinous act, it isn’t a false accusation of blame, it is actually the truth.

 

 

Tails: The Best Gotcha Day Ever…

Today marks Alice’s one year anniversary of her “Gotcha Day” with us.  We have 4 dogs at the moment and while each one of them holds a dear place in my heart, there is just something about Alice.

She could not have been dropped into our laps at a worse time.  I remember getting the message from Jessica, “Is there anyway you could foster this Shih Tzu we are bringing up from auction?”  I knew my husband would freak out.  We were leaving in a few weeks for a trip to Florida, but when Jess sent me her photo: this horrible, sad Tzu with her tongue hanging out and looking just like our Penelope – I couldn’t possibly say no.

The picture Jess sent me from the auction.

So, I said what so many of us say, “Yes, but only for a few weeks.”

I promised Bill that the dog would be gone by the time we left for our trip.

I remember picking her up at Jennifer’s house.  She had just come from her spay surgery.  She was sitting in a laundry basket half awake.  All I saw was her tongue.  I had never experienced a “tongue dog” before.  It really takes some getting used to.

My daughter, Abby, was with me on the pick-up and she was taken back by the dog and the tongue and her pathetic little state of being.  My heart was smiling because I was doing what I love most in the world – taking in a helpless dog who just needed love and a second chance.

Alice’s ride to our house.

Alice came from a puppy mill.  She spent 5 horrifying years there and everything about her showed the scars of the horror.

Alice at the rescue vet. #89 was her puppy mill auction number.

We took her home and found her a safe place in the family room.  Crated her for the night and never heard a peep.

However, the next day proved more challenging.  Alice was afraid of absolutely everything.  I had experienced this before with Thorp, but Alice was even more untrusting.  She would hide behind the wash machine for hours on end.  She would disappear on the lower bookshelves.  She trembled constantly.  But, of course, each of these moments only melted by heart more.

Alice hiding in the bookshelves

The days with Alice were hard and sad.  She was such a blatant reminder of how much I hate puppy mills.  Not to mention, I was constantly trying to wet her little tongue because it looked so dry.

Time went fast and before I knew it, we had to leave for Florida.  There was no way I could part with Alice and make her go to a new home just as we she was starting to get a little settled in ours.  So, I asked my pet sitter if she could handle one more – of course, she could.

We went to Florida and while we were there I had a terrible freak accident on the beach!  I stepped on very large, very sharp shell and needed emergency surgery.  Our trip was extended an entire week.  Alice would have to wait longer for me to get back.

When I did get back, I wasn’t able to put any weight on my foot and could only walk a little with the help of crutches.  Poor Alice was terrified of the crutches and no one else in my family had the endless patience to deal with her.  It was messy in our house for a few weeks.  (some of you can imagine…) But, because of the tension of the situation, I think I healed quicker.  I tried harder to get around because I knew Alice needed me.

A few weeks later, I was off crutches and we were headed back down to Florida for a long Thanksgiving holiday.  See we already had bought a home there and it was our plan all along to move down the fall of 2017.    We had been cleaning out our IL house and “thinning our herd” not even once considering adding to it.  But, here we were towing 4 dogs to Florida.

Alice was still frightened of everything, but she traveled so well.  She absolutely loved the beach and the sunshine and slowly, our crazy life was becoming hers, too.

Alice on Sanibel beach

I remember adoption applications coming in for her.  I would read them, my heart would race, my stomach would get that pit inside and I would think of a million reasons why that person or family was not a good fit.  In truth, Alice was not nearly ready.  I am always worried about mill dogs getting loose and running away – so scared they don’t come back and so impossible to find.  Alice was definitely one of those dogs.

Christmas came and my birthday right after New Year’s and Alice was still living with us.  Neither my husband or my daughter offered to give her as a gift to me like our Jack had been and no one ever came out and said,”Adopt her,” but I did.   I sent in the adoption paperwork and fee and she was finally mine.

I don’t think any of us can imagine life without her.  We certainly had NO intention of adding to our family, but she dropped in practically unannounced and she just fit.

Family, friends, and total strangers all love Alice.  Her tongue precedes her and people are fascinated by her.  I took her on a girls trip to Florida and we had the best service in the airport.  Even the TSA went out of their way to accommodate us!!  Stores always allow her in and nearly every one of them offers her water!

Penelope and Thorp have always been my reminders of puppy mills.  They have always fueled my desire to see puppy mills go away.  Alice does that, too, but because of her tongue, she instantly initiates the conversation with strangers.  She is the poster child for all that is wrong with mass breeding.  People who never understood the horrors of puppy mills take one look at her and understand my fight.

My vet believes that Alice’s tongue is a result of blunt trauma to her skull that left her face crooked and partially paralyzed.  I hate thinking of her being treated so cruelly.  Alice also suffers from severe dry eye and because it went untreated for 5 years, her eyesight in her left eye will probably be a total loss.  She is on drops multiple times a day, but we aren’t sure they will save both eyes.

Alice is willful, playful, quirky, and so appreciative of love.  She filled a hole in my heart I didn’t know I had.

I am so grateful that she was plopped into our lives when we least expected it.  I have fostered numerous dogs and have been able to let them go, but Alice was the one who had to stay.

Christmas pic on Sanibel.

If you ever have even the smallest glimmer of wanting to foster – DO IT!  You don’t just change a dog’s life, you change your own.

Happy Gotcha Day, Alice!!  We love you more than you could ever know.

Those eyes… that tongue.

Why I Hate Michael Vick with All of My Heart

For 8 years I have been having the same debate with people.  Ever since Vick went to jail for financing a heinous dogfighting ring called Bad Newz Kennels, I have been explaining why I hope he rots in hell.

There are people who think he deserved to be re-hired as a glorious QB in the NFL.  People who praise his comebacks.  Very recently, people who voted him to be in the Virginia Tech Hall of Fame.  And just a few weeks ago, he was hired as an intern coach in Kansas City.  Each of these events spark fuel on both sides.  The group who feels he has redeemed himself and deserves a second chance and the group who thinks he should live his life in prison.

I am and will always be the latter.

Maybe, instead of focusing on Vick to explain why I feel the way I do, it is time to explain myself.

However, before I do that, let me be clear about what Michael Vick was responsible for… At Bad Newz Kennels, they found the dead bodies of hundred of dogs.  They know that the dogs were electrocuted, drowned, raped, hung, tortured, starved etc… Vick was a part of all of this for a few years.  It was never a one-time incident.  It was not an accident.  These were conscious decisions made by him daily for years.

Now me… For all of my life that I can remember my heart has seen animals as little souls.  I have always saved them.  From baby birds to lost dogs, their lives were as important to me as my own.

Let me repeat that – their lives were as important to me as my own.

I think that last sentence differentiates some human beings.

For a myriad of reasons, not everyone feels that way.  I am not here to debate which is right- only to use that as the explanation for my pure hatred for Vick.

I have been a very involved animal advocate for the last 15 years.  I am beyond passionate about finding homeless dogs and cats homes.  I am a walking billboard against puppy mills.  I am these things not only because I have been in the trenches, but because my heart, the one I was born with, sees animals as sentient beings who have feelings.  I never had a choice about how I would feel towards animals, my love for them is who I am.

For people like me, who see animals this way, life can be painful.  There have been times where I felt my love for animals was a curse because my heart can break on a daily basis seeing the cruel acts people do to them.

When I walked into my first Amish dog auction, the pain and heartache I felt was beyond comprehension.  However, there are lots of people who could walk into one and maybe not feel anything at all.  That pain defines me.

I am not going to make assumptions, but I do believe that many of the Vick haters are people like me, who have been given hearts that love animals on a different level.  What he did to them wasn’t just bad, to us, it is beyond horrifying because we believe animals lives are as important as our own.  To us, Vick is no different than a serial killer.

How many people would think that Gacy, Bundy or Dahmer should be in the Virgina Tech Hall of Fame or come out of prison and be a NFL QB or end up a NFL coach?  I have to think not many.

To those of us with the curse of a huge heart for animals, this is how we see Vick.

I understand that might seem extreme, even bordering mentally ill, to some of you, but I am just being honest about who I am and who I think some of Vick’s other haters are.

I didn’t choose to love animals the way I do – it is just who I am.  Knowing what Vick did to those innocent dogs breaks me.

So, I get it – not everyone sees him as the evil monster I do and not everyone would save a mouse from a glue trap like I did.

To understand my hatred, you would have to understand my heart and the passion I have for animals.  While there are many days I wish I could look the other way and pretend the animal cruelty doesn’t bother me so deeply, in the end, I am grateful to have my heart and to fight for the voiceless.

I know that my heart is also my gift – my path in life.  I trust that I was given it knowing I would never give up. And, I won’t.

 

 

Tails: Puppy Mills Should Be Illegal Because They Force Animals to Suffer

I have been facing the harsh reality of puppy mills for nine years now.  Nine years of waking up in the middle of the night picturing thousands of dog suffering in silence and feeling helpless to make it stop.

Politicians, lobbyists, breeders, the AKC, Big Ag companies all continue to argue that there is nothing wrong with puppy mills.  They continue to fight every bill that comes along to help the dogs who have no voice.  It sickens me, it hardens me and it makes me question my faith in humanity.

The last two days I spent at my vet clinic.  Penelope, my mill rescue from 2009, is a Shih Tzu who is 12 years old now.  Since October, she has been getting re-occuring corneal ulcers.  They are extremely painful for her.  On Sunday, she looked so bad we really thought she was going to die.  Corneal ulcers are a common health issue for her breed.  We got her the medical treatment and medicine she needs, including pain meds, to help the ulcer heal again.  There is a good chance she will need surgery in the future if the ulcers keep happening.

Yesterday, I was at the clinic with Alice, my mill rescue from September.  She is also a Shih Tzu.  When she was rescued and I took her in, we really thought she was going to have to have her eyes removed.  She has terrible dry eye and since it went UNTREATED in the mill for so long, her eyes were in horrific shape.  I am happy to say that at her check-up yesterday her right eye is testing in normal range now thanks to the meds.  Her left eye shows minor improvement and we will be working on a new medical plan.  The good news is that her right eye is actually healthy and even if she has to lose her left eye at some point, she should always have vision in the right one.

Imagine if she was still in the mill?  Still suffering day in and day out?  No treatment, no medicine… She would go blind and live her life in total darkness and in constant pain.

Imagine if Penelope was still in the mill and her eyes began ulcerating like they are.  No one would take her to the vet to get her pain meds.  No one would get her the drops she needs to heal her eyes.  No one.

Ever scratch your eye or get something in it?  Ever have pink eye?  Remember that pain?  Remember how awful you felt.  What if you had to live your entire life in that kind of pain?

As I sat at the vet clinic the last few days I started to think that maybe the general public doesn’t really comprehend the medical needs going untreated in the puppy mills across the United States.  There are THOUSANDS of dogs not just living in crappy, rusty cages never to see the light of day, but THOUSANDS of dogs living in pain from health issues going completely untreated.

I looked at Penelope in the car on the way to the vet and saw her squinting and hiding her little head in her paws.  It was obvious her pain was excruciating.  There are so many Shih Tzu in mills across this country suffering just like her and NO ONE is getting them the help they need.

I thought about this all day.  And yes, I know that there are dog owners who sometimes fail to get their dogs treatment due to time or money.  They try, but for all kinds of reasons fail to get them the help they need.  Do I approve of such ownership?  No, of course not.  However, there is one drastic difference between a dog owner and puppy miller: profit.

A puppy miller is breeding mass amounts of dogs to make money!  They are making profit off the very dogs they refuse to give proper medical treatment to.  To me, this is when puppy mills not only become the definition of animal cruelty, but when they cross the line and become CRIMINAL and should be ILLEGAL.

How, as a first world country, can we allow these horrifying mass breeding operations to continue when we KNOW that thousands of dogs are SUFFERING.  SUFFERING – not just lonely or scared or unwanted, but in PAIN – horrible, CONSTANT pain.

So many of the popular breeds have medical issues that need monitoring.  As I mentioned, Shih Tzu and many of the flat face breeds have eye issues.  From dry eye to ulcers, to inward eyelids, these breeds often need medical treatment to live pain-free lives.  English Bulldogs have numerous skin issues.  If they are not kept properly cleaned in all of their skin folds, infection can become a huge issue.  King Charles Spaniels have heart issues. Huskies have autoimmune disorders  with sores and skin infections. German Shepherds are prone to hip dysplasia. Beagles often have Epilepsy. Cocker Spaniels get frequent ear infections.  Poodles are prone to glaucoma.  Chihuahuas can have collapsing trachea.  Maltese can get Shaking Syndrome.  Boston Terriers often get cherry eye.

These are just a few of the popular breeds found in puppy mills, all of which are prone to some illness or disease that is treatable with medications and/or surgery, yet NONE of these dogs will get this treatment in puppy mills. Instead, they will suffer – day in and day out.

Thousands of dogs have been rescued from mills demonstrating TIME AND TIME again that their medical conditions have gone untreated.  Some lose eyes, some lose legs, some have only weeks to live once they are pulled from the mill because their health is so compromised.

Why aren’t more puppy millers in jail?  Why isn’t this a CRIME?  What kind of society KNOWINGLY ALLOWS this type of cruel behavior to not only exist, but to THRIVE and to PROFIT?

Let me be clear… Puppy mills aren’t just cruel because thousands of dogs live in cages with no human contact.  THOUSANDS of dogs live every single day in pain – never to be treated by a veterinarian.  Never to get those eye drops, or pain meds, or anti-seizure medications.

Please BE THE VOICE for these animals who literally SUFFER in SILENCE day after day.

We MUST do better for them.

 

Tails: Before You Buy that Christmas Puppy…

Before you buy that puppy in the window at Petland or Furry Babies or whatever pet store is in your town, let me tell you about Alice.

Alice is a 5-year-old pure bred Shih Tzu.  The Rescue Warriors Corp. got her at a breeders auction at the end of September.  For 5 years Alice sat in a crappy cage churning out puppies for stores like Petland or Furry Babies or that pet store in your town.

When I got Alice she was skin and bones.  Her teeth were so rotted and infected that most of them had to be removed.  Her tongue hangs to the outside of her mouth.  My vet believes she was hit in the head with a bat or something hard and left her whole jaw off-center and her face partially paralyzed.  Her eyes were crusted with infection and she suffers chronic dry eye that was never treated until the day Rescue Warriors took her to the vet.  For the rest of her life she will get eye meds to, hopefully, prevent her from going totally blind.

The breeder who had her likely made $400-$500 off each of her puppies.  She was probably bred every heat cycle for at least 4 – 4 1/2 years.  On average let’s say she had 4 puppies in a litter – her breeder made at least $15,000-$20,000 off her babies and yet never once treated her eyes or got her medical attention for her head trauma.  He never spent money getting her teeth cleaned.  He pocketed ALL that cash and left her to rot in a rusty cage with no blankets or toys or decent food.

The pet store that sells her puppies sells them for $1000-$2000 each!  In the end, Alice’s puppies brought in over $70,000 and yet, poor Alice suffered in silence never seeing the light of day.

When you buy on-line or at a pet store that is what you are supporting: total greed, complete cruelty.

Alice’s medical needs are great, but it is her emotional well-being that is worse.  We have had Alice for about 2 1/2 months and while each day she generally makes progress, she is unlike a normal dog.  She flees each time someone coughs or sneezes or drops a pen on the floor.  For the first few weeks, she hid behind the wash machine, she pancaked between bookshelves.  She did everything she could to not exist.

Dogs raised in healthy environments do NOT react to families or homes like Alice does.  She didn’t know stairs.  She didn’t understand a leash.  She hadn’t a clue what to do with a toy.

When you buy a puppy at a pet store or on-line – you are supporting this cruelty.  You are saying it is OKAY to treat the parents of those puppies like Alice was treated.

I have spent hundreds of hours simply saying to Alice in my softest of voices, “It is okay.”  Those 3 words, again and again to re-assure her that not all humans are mean and neglectful.  Those 3 words to remind her she has a new future filled with love and compassion.

I am unsure what it takes to make people understand the connection between the pet store window and the puppy mill cage.  But let me say this with 100% certainty: there is a DIRECT connection.  You can’t wish it weren’t true or put your head in the sand and ignore it!  When you buy a puppy at pet store or on-line, YOU, let me repeat, YOU are contributing to the cruelty.  YOU are perpetuating the entire system.  YOU are saying that breeding dogs left behind are products and don’t matter.  YOU are part of the problem.

Over a million GOOD dogs will be killed this year simply because there isn’t enough shelter space for them.  Instead of contributing to the hell of puppy mills, YOU could adopt a dog from a shelter and YOU could SAVE A LIFE.

There are no excuses… there are plenty of purebreds in shelters. In fact, there are rescues for nearly every purebred breed there is.  Try looking on petfinder or adoptapet.  I guarantee you can find practically any dog you are looking for.  There are puppies in shelters and rescues, too… so again, NO EXCUSES.

And there is always the argument, and it is a good one, that mixed breeds are healthier dogs anyway.

My favorite dog to adopt is the senior dog.  They rarely need much training and want nothing more than a nice walk and comfy couch to hang out with you on.

Please do not be one of the ignorant people who thinks the only way to get a “good dog” is to buy one from the pet stores who propagate puppy mill cruelty.  I have worked in a county shelter where AWESOME dogs could be adopted for a mere $80.  Don’t fall for the crap that only dogs with baggage end up in shelters and rescues.  People give up their dogs for so many heartbreaking reasons like divorce, moving, bankruptcy, allergies, etc… Most, I repeat, MOST of the dogs in shelters are incredible dogs who could not only be great family dogs, but go on to be therapy dogs and service animals.

In my heart it is far more commendable and rewarding to be the person who saves a life than the one who buys a dog in a pet store and forces breeding dogs like Alice to live a life of neglect forever.

Please as you or a friend or colleague considers a Christmas pup this season, let Alice be your reminder to ADOPT never buy at a pet store or on-line.

If you want to learn more about puppy mills and breeders auctions, consider my book, Bark Until Heard.  It is my personal journey into the awful world of breeding, too few people know about.

Tails: People Can Be Prisoners in Animal Shelters, Too

It has been a decade since I worked in our county animal control.  Ten full years and there are moments I remember like they were yesterday.  The beautiful moments where the most unadoptable dog finally finds the perfect home.  And, the very ugly moments where I was forced to assist with the decapitation of a Mastiff who bit a small child.  Those ugly moments don’t just haunt me when I least expect it, they force me to look in the mirror today and ask, “Why didn’t you say something?”

There’s no doubt that I have made an enormous amount of rescue friends in the last decade.  Between the puppy mill auctions and my book, I have had the amazing opportunity to surround myself with true warriors.  Not only do they each continue to teach me on a daily basis, but if I am ever struggling with any animal issue, I know I can count on them to get me through.  I didn’t have that support system 10 years ago.  I was new.  I was naive.

Yet, I was still me and I tend NOT to take things lying down, especially when they concern the well-being of animals.  Hell, the whole reason I was at animal control was to HELP animals.  It certainly wasn’t the pay or great benefits.

What is it about working or volunteering in a shelter that brainwashes so many to look past all of the problems and all of the wrong-doings.  So many, like me, choose silence over action as we watch horrible things take place.  I look back on my days at AC and feel like I lost my voice for a few years.  I mean literally feel mute when I re-imagine those years.

Why didn’t I contact the local paper or go above my superior?  Why didn’t I quit sooner?  Why didn’t I try harder?  Yes, I loved so many of my days at the shelter, but the ones I didn’t like, truly those were grounds for media coverage and terminations.  There were things done illegally, inhumanely.  Yet, I looked away.

I think many people rationalize their inability to speak out for different reasons.  Some people believe that if they left or got fired for speaking out, “Who would look after the animals then?”  Yet, in hindsight, “Who is looking after the animals now, when the people who do care aren’t speaking out?”

I think while my heart knew better, I didn’t feel like I knew enough to take a stand.  Many of the employees had been there a long time and had been doing the bad shit for years, who was I to question them?  (Looking back… my stomach turns because I KNOW, without hesitation, I should I have reported it all.)  There is something to be said about trusting your intuition.  I should have trusted mine.

I think there are some people who don’t leave or question things simply because they enjoy the “god” persona.  There is something powerful for them about deciding who lives and who dies each day.  God help them.

As I look back on that time in my life, I can’t help but feel like a prisoner.  A part of an institution that kept me from speaking out for reasons I wasn’t even conscious of.  Unknowingly brainwashed  to keep the status quo and just keep working.  Truthfully, I am ashamed of myself when I look back on those days.  Knowing what I know today, I could have done so much more.

I wrote this blog to encourage others who work in shelters to REALLY look around at their practices.  If your gut is telling you that something is off, it probably is.  If you are new, but question if the practices are ethical, reach out to someone outside of the shelter and ask them for their opinion – even if they aren’t in rescue.

There are laws to protect people from being fired or banned from volunteering simply because they speak out against the shelter’s practices.

I look back on my time at the shelter and remember it feeling like the shelter was its own microcosm.  As if our actions were judged amongst only ourselves and never upheld to the ethical standards outside our 4 concrete walls.  As if, in our world, it was okay to have different rules.  It shouldn’t be like that.  Animals deserve to be treated humanely in ALL shelters, regardless of demographics or financial standing.

It is easy to portray the dogs and cats in cages as prisoners in the shelters, but the real prisoners are the employees and volunteers who believe their only choice is to continue their day-to-day work in silence, praying that the illegal practices and inhumane treatment of the animals comes to an end.

Don’t be a prisoner, be a hero.  Speak out today and truly change things for the animals.  I promise there is an army of people ready to help you.

 

Tails: 55+ – An Untapped Community for Foster Homes…

Yesterday I went on a home visit for a woman who is interested in becoming a foster for our rescue.  I met her at my book signing.  She is an older woman – in her 60’s or so.

I had briefly talked to her about fostering at the signing where I also met her 17-year-old dog who is now blind and deaf.  I knew that she had THE heart for rescue.

I followed my GPS  to her gated neighborhood, a 55+ community.  I drove through the tree-lined streets and noticed the manicured yards.  It was quiet and welcoming and safe.

She met me at the door, holding her little dog in her arms.  Warmly invited me in, asked if I wanted coffee or lemonade or anything at all.  We found comfy seats in the living room of the lovely ranch home.  (no stairs).

She talked for some time about all the dogs she has had.  She teared up a few times as she shared the ups and downs – the joy they gave and the illnesses they suffered.  She took me through the house to see the pictures of all the dogs who once shared her life.

We started to talk more about the actual idea of fostering.  She had questions that I was happy to answer.  I, too, had my standard set of questions.  Where will the dog go out, where will you keep it when you are gone, how long are you away from the home, is there a fence, will you walk the dog, where will you take it for vet care, what if the dog has behavior issues, etc…

As I sat there taking in her answers, I became overwhelmed.  Since she is retired, she would be spending most of every day with the dog, but if she needed to be gone more than a few hours, there was a myriad of friends with dogs living in the community who would come to let the dog out. “It is something we all do for each other.”

“We all take our dogs for walks at least 3 times a day.  Did you see the little park when you came in?  That is our dog park.  We all like to go there together.”

“Behavior issues?  Oh, well the lady next door had a little poodle who was nippy and took her to a great trainer a town away.  Another friend had one and we have all helped to socialize her.  She is so much better now.”

The more she talked, not just of herself, but of the community, I couldn’t help but say out loud,”This is the ideal setting for foster homes!”

And it is.  Here is a group of people who have the time and the communal resources to foster dogs.  They enjoy the socialization having a dog brings, they have each other to rely on for care, they have band together a group of resources whether it be training, vet care, or the internet.    They have an entire support system in place.  It was amazing!

She talked of her 90-year-old neighbor fostering a Yorkie.  She couldn’t believe the woman was able to say goodbye, but she pointed out that it was the woman who knew in her heart the young dog had the energy for a young family.  This group wasn’t just physically able to manage foster care, they were emotionally mature enough to know when to let them go.

The home visit was a complete success.  As I drove away, my heart felt so full of joy.  At 45, I contemplate mortality a lot more often now.  I worry about living life fully.  Well, here was an entire aging community willing to contribute to something I am passionate about.  I had to feel good about that.

I also had to stop and think if, as rescue people, we have given this population enough credit?  Have we ever really stopped to think of the untapped potential they offer?

Often rescues are hesitant to even adopt to seniors.  Sure the mortality odds aren’t in their favor, but anyone could die at any given time.  And frankly, the odds are not that good for the 2 million dogs who WILL be killed in shelters across America this year.  I am more than willing to place my bet on the senior population, willing to take the homeless dogs in and to offer them so much companionship and love.

The rescue community struggles amongst itself at times, arguing about what makes the best home and who should or shouldn’t be able to adopt.  We get so caught up in perfection, I think we fail to look at all the wonderful scenarios right in front of us.  There are 55+ communities in nearly every major city across America.  Imagine if we could take just a handful of fosters and place them every month, we would be opening up more kennel space, saving so many more dogs AND providing lifelong health benefits to the members of the communities.  We all know animal companionship leads to a longer and more fulfilling human life.

If, as a rescuer, you are still hesitant to involve a senior community, think about your own mortality for a few minutes.  When you are 60, 70, 80 even 90 do you see your life without a pet?  I didn’t think so…

Here are a few links to  55+ communities in the states.  Build your foster program today! #fosteringsaveslives

Del Webb

55+ USA Communities

55+ Community Guide